We left La Paz like fugitives, at dark, with our belongings strapped to the roof of our van. We could barely see the faces of our new companions with whom we would spend the next five days with but introductions were made anyway. There was a couple from Canada on their gap year (Emily and Jay), a couple from Paris (Silvan and Veronique) and Morton from Denmark. As the sun rose, it was revealed to us that we were driving above the clouds! The mountains in Bolivia are lush and dramatic, and so are the clouds from above!
As we drove the road got narrower and narrower and eventually we stopped for breakfast (which I think was responsible for me getting sick) and then the road turned into a one lane dirt windy number. I looked out the window and was thrilled for all of three seconds to notice the sheer cliff we were driving on. Then I decided fear was the best emotion and for the next few hours I was as tense as tightrope walker who is walking above a shark tank. I was literally unsure we were going to make it every time we had to swerve towards the edge of the cliff to avoid a head on collision with a truck or jeep or another taxi that came careening around a hairpin curve.
Finally we made it to Guanay, a small town at the base of the moutains where we were to begin our journey. We had lunch, walked around and watched soccer practice and a political rally.
Finally, half an hour after promised, Bebeto - one of our guides - came and got us and led us over the muddy ground to our raft. The raft...was litterally just that. It was a bunch of innertubes with a bunch of sticks on top tied together with string. I think Huckleberry Finn had nicer accomodations.
We were then given these blue plastic bags and rubber ties and told these are all that were going to be between the roaring river and our precious belongings. We rightly were sceptical, but tied up everything and then watched as our bags were tied down to the rafts and the guides pointed to them and told us to take a seat! Seated on top of someone else´s belongings we headed down river.
The ride was as short one and we landed on a beach where we stayed the first night. The gringos were given the task of building a fire while the guides set up camp and cooked dinner. Josh jumped for joy and set about his favorite task and began collecting wood.
We had three guides. The head guide was Ivan, a La Paz native with pretty good English skills who has been working as a river guide for about ten years. Abel and his son Bebetto are natives of Guana, where we set off from, and are a family of guides. I´m not sure how long Abel has been a guide for, but he lookes like he was born with the paddle in his hand and with his camo fishermans hat on his head. His strength was incredible for an older looking man, and his son Bebeto loved to show us ladies how strong he was by constantly stripping to the waist and walking around flexing his impressive 18 year old mucles. We ate in front of the fire trying to avoid the sand flies that would prove to be the end of us and then went to bed early.
The next day we rafted until we got to a beach where we went on a hike. Abel lead it and suggested flip flops as appropriate foot wear. Maybe for a man with leather feet like Abel, but for this soft footed girl it was torture! I walked bare foot to avoid slipping in the flops, and in flops to avoid the sharp rocks, but inevidably fell and arrived at a beautiful waterfall sweaty and ready to jump in!
On the way back I wore hiking boots even though they got soaked and fell hard once despite my efforts to balance and at this point the fevery feeling that had been sneaking up on me since lunch in Guana was too much and I almost started crying. I pulled through and made it to the beach where a nap and no lunch was all I could handle.
The raft ride was beautiful and better after someone genersouly donated some ibprofin, but to my dismay the campsite we were headed for was run over by cows and their mud pies! In the dark we navigated to a rocky beak where a sany lot was found and I retreated to my tent for a feverish dinnerless night. I hardly slept and was sure I was going to end up being horribly sick for the next three days with no releaf until the next morning my savior angel appeared in the form of Morton and his anti biotics! One mega pill of three later and I was ready to go and feeling better almost instantly.
Josh hiking through the jungle
There were so many different kinds of butterflies that flew out to our raft, and they all seemed to have a pattern or color to match a differnt item on the raft. A blue irridecent one for the blue plastic bags of death, an orange one for the life jackets, a brown one for the wood, and others that seemed to blend in with nothing but astounded me with their complexity and beauty.
Emily caught a piranah!
Crazy natural tree protection
a note on trees: there are so many different kinds with giant termite nest, and many that can cure arthritis, stomach issues and other ailments brought on by life in the jungle. They were so interesting!
Josh eats a banana from a banana tree in the forest after a hike
a piranah with a fish hook in its eye
a tower made by the ants of dirt
a quick not on life on the river: the people who live on the river are gold miners. In the eighties there was a gold rush and while most of the gold is gone, families with more money use machines and can find up to four grams of gold a day. Poorer families use the traditional wooden pan and find around one gram a day. A gram of gold fetches abour 250 Bolivianos, but the trade off is living in the jungle with the sand flies and a generator, and worse is that the cold river gives people arthritis very early. We camped next to a house where the oldest child was eight. His mother could barely walk as she left the river to take a break from what for us was a relief from the heat and for her a curse on her aching body.
tired and damp on our last morning
On our last day we woke up ready to be out of the jungle but ready for one last amazing experience. With the amazing strenth of Abel and Bebeto we ended up at the most beautiful waterfall I´ve ever seen. All the strength and glory of the Gargantua del Diablo waterfall we saw in Iguazu was contrasted in this amazingly delicate waterfall that fell from an impossible hight but with grace into the red pool below.